Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gravel Plunking

It was a chilly start. Knowing that it would warm up, I had dressed in my usual summer attire. In contrast to our hotter-than-normal summer, the October morning air was more invigorating than unpleasant. I actually enjoyed the slight nip on my ears during descents into the valley where the cooler air had settled.

Gravel plunking was on the agenda. The pace of the work week is like sprinting up the muddy incline in a cyclocross race. It is both difficult and urgent. Since I've been asked to fix some things on a project that haven't gone well so far, with no ability to relax the schedule, it is also like trying to fix a flat tire while riding down the road. So on Saturday morning, I sought the opposite of all that, and gravel plunking seemed to be just the thing.

Gravel plunking is my term for a relaxed tourist pace on unpaved roads. One of my favorite routes for this activity is what I call the Slidell Loop (or Strada Biancha), and some of my friends (Rat Trap Press and Doohickie) have joined me for this route in the past. I deliberately dawdled, paused for photos, and stopped just to listen to the quiet. Because I could.

The route begins with a drop into the Clear Creek valley. My house sits somewhat on a ridgeline on the east edge of the valley. When heading west towards Slidell, one must first descend. Then there are several small rollers dividing smaller tributaries to the main channel, and alternating zones of trees and open pasture. Somewhere around 7 miles later, there is the climb out of the valley to the ridge on the western side. The view is pleasant.

I stop for water and admire the view. Then I point the front tire across the prairie, aim for the horizon, and plunk along. And when I reach the horizon, I turn right.

My A. Homer Hilsen is bred for gravel plunking. The enticement for speed from my Trek 660 project bike has been fun lately, but today was about enjoying the spectacular October weather in a more lingering sort of way. The slack head and seat tube angles, the wide tires, and the narrow, flexing fork ends all provide a comfortable ride on rugged roads.

After close to an hour in wide open spaces, rolling into the north side of Slidell is a sharp contrast. Houses appear, then cluster closer together. The road changes from gravel to chip seal. Barns, tractors, and other farm implements spot the landscape of this sleepy community.

It only takes a few minutes to cross the populated area. I notice the warmer air, the stronger wind, and the occasional resident tending their chores. They've done the little things to make one small place on this earth uniquely theirs. Rural charm.

Then I turn back to the east. It's the turnaround point on this loop. No longer heading out into some adventure, I've transitioned, in a sense, into being homeward bound. But I'm not in a hurry. I'm still gravel plunking, having a delightful morning, and...well...I shall get there...I suppose...eventually.


  1. Gravel Plunking. Awesome. I wish I were closer to gravel.

  2. Projects can be frustrating and come under what I call the "tyranny of work". Even when they come out OK, they still require that you leave a small piece of your soul behind.

    My philosophy, therefore is a simple "F@#& work!". It's necessary, and I most enjoy what I do, but still....

  3. I went for a short ride on an asphalt section of rail-trail this afternoon to test ride my commuter bike which I converted from 10 speed to 5 speed. I was riding along at a very comfortable pace when I found myself "pushing it" for a moment. It occurred to me that I wouldn't have that hurried feeling if it were not for my work which always has me pushing to get on to the next thing. The words in your last paragraph struck a nerve (in a good way). Thanks.

  4. Maybe I can start "asphalt plunking" during my urban rides and enjoy them more. :)

  5. Can't conjure any image of a RBW that's better looking than your orange AHH. And we've traded page views enough fir you to know how much I appreciate tales of a little gravel plunking. What an excellent way to slow down and soak it in

  6. Nice photos and enjoyable commentary!

    Thanks to you, Chris, I too may have plucked cousins of some those gravel pieces!

    Paz :)

  7. Looks relaxing, and wonderful. I need a ride like that sometime soon.

  8. Gravel plunking. What a great to get away from it all and recharge.

  9. Wonderful!
    I did some plunking of my own today, out along the same Lochside Trail that Felix and I took when we went camping at the end of summer. It was a loooong detour en route to the university, and a 'shake-out' for the new partial fenders I ziptied to the old Cannondale.

    After continuing where I 'should have' turned (if the day had been less of a perect autumn specimen and I had wanted to spend my afternoon indoors) I carried on along until I bumped into a family of 4 that we know (littlest one in the bike trailer, the almost-5-year-old pedalling his own bike) and their exchange student from Bremen, Germany. They were riding out to a local farm market renowned for its pumpkins. We diverged after a ways, when they continued along the trail and I peeled off to explore some scenic backroads that I eyeballed a while ago c/o Google streetview. I was hoping for something like rural English lanes, and the reality was about as close as one wil find here in Greater Victoria.

    After my explorations, I stopped at the model airplane airfield for an apple from my neighbour's tree and some cheddar (a favourite snack) while I watched some remote-controlled aerobatics. Finally, back along the trail and around Mt Doug to UVic, where GIS awaits me.

    Total detour around 33.7 km/20.9 miles. I didn't take a single photo, either: just absorbed it all with my senses.

    Three cheers for bicycles and three cheers for plunking!

  10. Man, I need a ride like that...

  11. Dear Pondero,
    Remember the ever popular catfish on fence posts encountered during the Annual Fall Finale Forty Mile Country Path Ramble? Well, this year it looks like they are hanging dead coyotes from fence posts. Saw one yesterday.

  12. "That was the biggest Loggerhead Shrike I ever saw!"

  13. Okay. I'm struggling with the Loggerhead Shrike reference...

    A little help?

  14. It was in reference to Mrs. Pondero's observation of a coyote on a fencepost. The Loggerhead Shrike, as I'm sure you know, "impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire before eating it" (Wikipedia).

    It was a lame joke that a small bird had slain & arranged the canid, and that someone had seen it happen.

  15. Brilliant!

    I hate it when the humor goes sailing right over my head, and I miss out on all the fun.

  16. Your Ferris Bueller quote seems germane to this post!